House Labor & Workforce Development Committee to act on workplace bills

January 23, 2014

Thursday’s agenda of the House Labor and Workforce Committee calls for possible executive action on a package of bills that proponents say would deal with workplace fairness issues such as misclassifying employees as independent contractors, underpaying wages, or retaliating against workers who file complaints. The bills are:

• HB 2331, which would require employers to submit certified payroll records to prove they met prevailing wage requirements for public works projects before they are paid by the state.

• HB 2332, which would impose triple damages on employers who underpaid workers. Existing law provides for double damages.

• HB 2333, which would prohibit employers from retaliating against employees who file complaints regarding their wages or employment status.

• HB 2334, which would define independent contractor status more clearly and impose greater penalties on employers who misclassify workers.

Business and labor representatives argued their positions on this legislation in the committee’s hearing on Tuesday. Teresa Mosqueda, the Washington State Labor Council’s government affairs director, said, “This is a comprehensive approach to dealing with workplace fraud. Our laws don’t currently look at how to appropriately classify workers. We don’t have enough teeth on the books to be sure we can prevent wage theft, and we have a problem with retaliation.” 

Tim O’Connel, representing the Association of Washington Business, pointed out that, “these bills purport to target scofflaws, but in fact they affect all employers in this state. They increase the cost of doing business, because they make even meritless claims more difficult to fight.”

Gary Smith, executive director of the Independent Business Association, added,  “The complexity of these laws is overwhelming. Small businesses just don’t have the legal resources to figure out what these laws really say and how to implement them.”

The bills are scheduled for executive session this Thursday, but action may be delayed until Friday or next week. 

A full house in both chambers

The House and the Senate now operate with a full complement of members, after the appointment of Rep. Marko Liias (D-Mukilteo) to replace Sen. Paull Shin (D), who resigned for health reasons, in the 21st District and Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self (D-Mukilteo, who replaces Rep. Liias. 

Sen. Liias is a small business owner and served on the Mukilteo City Council and a number of community organizations before he was appointed to the House in 2008.

Rep. Ortiz-Self is a middle school counselor and a member of the state Commission on Hispanic Affairs. Both members were sworn in on Wednesday.